Honeydripper Movie Review
As usual with Sayles, there's a hard knot of a good story here. The film is named for the town's Honeydripper Lounge, a ramshackle affair that serves up a good fried chicken affair but whose old blues singer can't compete with the jukebox R&B getting blasted by the competition down the street. Danny Glover plays the owner, Pine Top Purvis, a piano player with a violent past who's in debt to everyone in town and about out of chances. His last one is a New Orleans hot shot named Guitar Sam who's got a radio hit and is booked to play the Honeydripper on Saturday; only problem is, when the train shows up, Guitar Sam is nowhere to be found, even though Purvis has plastered the town with ads. The whole thing is a scramble, with Purvis frantically (well, not frantically, maybe busily; it is the old South, after all, and things take time) working every last hustle he can to stay ahead of the creditors and the corrupt sheriff (Stacy Keach, playing it more for laid-back humor than menace) who will shut him down if he can't find somebody who looks and plays like Guitar Sam to show up on Saturday. Maybe that handsome fella who just hopped off the train and is chatting up Purvis' daughter could do the trick...
As is also unfortunately usual with Sayles, the solid structure of his story is one that plays much better on paper than it does on screen, endlessly padded out by digressions and dramatic dead-ends. A good example is the subplot following Purvis' wife Delilah, who is a maid for a rich white family and going through some sort of religious reawakening at an itinerant preacher's tent revival. There's nothing wrong on the surface with this story, as Lisa Gay Hamilton acts it with her expected dignity and grace, and the scenes are warmly rendered. But the whole thing is just one more element that detracts from the main thrust of Purvis' desperate predicament. The same goes for another endless thread following a number of bickering cotton pickers whose relationship to the entire story is tangential at best. Given how much vibrant humor and energy Sayles gets out of Glover and Charles S. Dutton, as Purvis' friend, it's eminently frustrating each time the film wanders away from that setup to dawdle in the weeds.
One wants to applaud Sayles for trying to present a portrait of an entire town and period here, but so much of Honeydripper is lacking in punch or drive that it's hard not to let one's initial admiration drain away and just start waiting for the thing to end. In any case, there's just no excuse for that blind guitar player, none whatsoever.
Robert Plant called. He wants his name back.
Cast & Crew
Director : John Sayles
Producer : Maggie Renzi
Screenwriter : John Sayles